Athletes may have a large stage, championships, medals and a platform, but they can struggle just like everyone else. Lindsey Vonn, one of the most successful and well-known skiers in the history of the sport, is shining a light on the struggles athletes go through, why taking care of mental health is so important and what lead her to become an advocate.
Earlier in her career, mental health was a topic Vonn didn't feel like it was something she could open up about.
"I was embarrassed, and also didn't feel like it was something that I could talk about, as a competitor, you know, I felt like it was also potentially a weakness," she told CBS Sports
The gold medalist realized how freeing and empowering asking for help could be and that it wasn't a weakness, but something that should be normalized.
"Everyone assumes that [athletes are] so strong and tough and, you know, physically, they're strong, but you know, mentally, it's, it's not always the case. You make assumptions, and you don't talk about it, and then it becomes a problem and athletes can't cope ... Talking about it and allowing athletes to have the support they need is really important. I think something that people don't realize is, sports and athletes, it seems like such a glamorous life, and especially if you're successful, but at the end of the day, you still come home, and when the lights go off, you're by yourself."
Vonn is working with Allianz, which "is committed to expanding mental health support to our customers, employees and society with resources, access and support to help enhance their mental health."
They offer support dogs, which they say reduces anxiety, increases feelings of well being and increases confidence, among other things. As a mental health advocate and a lover of dogs, Vonn worked with Allianz to raise awareness of the importance of the topic.
"I think is a really good combination of talking about mental health and also supporting athletes and people with, you know, dogs, emotional support dogs. So I think it's just, for me a perfect combination," she said. "So I know firsthand how big of a difference support dogs make, so I think this is a great program."
Through this program, and her work in general, she hopes to end the stigma surrounding the mental health struggles athletes can go through.
Looking at this year's Olympics, it is clear it will be a different experience due to the safety restrictions and Vonn knows some athletes will need extra support mentally. With less interaction between Olympians and fewer fans, Vonn acknowledges that there could be extra stress or that feeling of loneliness for the athletes.
"There's always going to be pressure, and there's a lot of extra things right now, because of COVID. And the routines are different, everything's different," Vonn added.
Her advice to other athletes, or anyone going through mental health struggles is to find someone you can confide in.
She said when she first struggled, she didn't tell many people, but looking back wishes she had.
"I didn't really feel like I had a lot of options. So I leaned on, you know, a few select friends. I didn't even tell my family, but I wish that I had because I feel like the more people I told the more support I felt and the better I felt," she explained. "No one's too big or too small to ask for help.
While some may look at Olympians as people on top of the world, she says, "success does not equal happiness," and wants current athletes to know that.
She added that you don't have to understand what it's like to compete in the Olympics to understand the feeling of anxiety, pressure or depression, emphasizing that those things are normal.
Looking at this year's Games, she hopes the athletes know if the pressure, mixed with the changes due to COVID, gets too much, they know they can ask someone for help, and that being vulnerable is important.